Fortune Bay fisherman sees green in invasive crab

A Newfoundland fisherman wants to make money off an invasive species that's destroying the ocean habitat where he lives and works, but DFO is cautious about issuing a commercial licence.

Preston Grandy harvests green crab to control the pest, but can't sell them for food or bait

Preston Grandy and his wife, Tonia, fish for lobster, scallop and sea urchins. They'd like to make money off the invasive green crab that are numerous in Fortune Bay. (Submitted)

A Newfoundland fisherman says there's money to be made from green crab, an invasive species that's destroying the ocean habitat at the edge of Fortune Bay.

But the department that's in control of commercial licences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is taking a cautious approach.

Preston Grandy, who fishes for lobster, scallop and sea urchins with his wife, Tonia, already harvests the species near Garnish and Frenchman's Cove on the west side of the Burin Peninsula.

I'm finding major, major numbers, numbers that have actually made me scared.- Preston Grandy

It's a small, experimental fishery to control the population and gather information for DFO.

But Grandy is not allowed to sell the crab for food or bait. It has to be destroyed.

"I'm finding major, major numbers, numbers that have actually made me scared," Grandy told CBC Radio's The Broadcast

"So far this year I've caught around 40,000 green crab and had a 60 per cent average of female."

The green crab are checked for size and sex and then discarded. (Submitted)

With each female capable of laying up to 165,000 eggs twice a year, that's alarming.

The crab breed in eel grass near the shoreline and even in saltwater ponds, Grandy said, and they feed mostly on juvenile shellfish. The bottom of the harbour near his home is littered with clam shells. 

Nibbles of interest from buyers

Grandy measures the green crab he harvests, recording the sex and size, then buries them in the country. They can't be put back in the water or in a community landfill because they carry parasites.

"This is all free labour, done by us," Grandy said.

It's a long-term investment to protect the species he depends on, but he'd like to be paid for protecting the environment.

Preston Grandy says there is an emerging market for green crab but DFO is concerned about spreading the invasive species and its impact on other fish. (Submitted)

"We want to look for markets to buy [green] crab here," he said, explaining that countries such as the United States and Portugal have marketed the crab as food.

"Right now we can supply green crab to restaurants, but we have to give it to them." 

A St. John's restaurant, Bad Bones Ramen, was interested in the crab for New Year's but Grandy said the timing was bad because the crab were hibernating.

"We've heard tell of some buyers from outside Newfoundland wanting to buy green crab, but the government has shut them down."

Treading carefully

According to the federal minister of fisheries, Dominic LeBlanc, the government has to tread carefully when it comes to the prospect of a commercial green crab fishery.

"It presents a unique challenge … the risk it presents to native species and local ecosystems has to be the most important consideration," LeBlanc said Tuesday.

"We think we need to have a better understanding of how this species would react with a directed fishery," he told The Broadcast, stressing that he doesn't want to make a mistake that could have "devastating consequences."

The Port-de-Grave Peninsula Heritage Society has many projects celebrating local culture. A fundraising dinner has sold out, we'll hear about the Society's plans. 17:30

LeBlanc said the government of Newfoundland and Labrador would also have to agree, and any sale of green crab as food would also have to be approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

"We would certainly consider such a proposal, but I don't want to pretend it's simple or easy," he said.

About the Author

Marilyn Boone

CBC News

Marilyn Boone is a producer who works with the CBC bureau in St. John's.

With files from The Broadcast